Word Processing and Spanish Accents  

Here are some ways in which you can insert Spanish characters in your documents.

ASCII values

Perhaps the clumsiest but most universally usable method of entering a certain limited number of foreign language characters is to use what is is sometimes called “the extended IBM character set”. There are 255 characters in all, and each one has a number, called an ASCII value, associated with it. The ASCII values for the Spanish characters are:

Type of Char. Character  Value    Type of Char.     Character  Value 
accented a      á        = 160    tilde + n           ñ        = 164 
accented e      é        = 130    tilde + N           Ñ        = 165 
accented i      í        = 161    inverted !          ¡        = 173 
accented o      ó        = 162    inverted ?          ¿        = 168 
accented u      ú        = 163    left angled quotes  «        = 174 
accented E      É        = 144    right angled quotes »        = 175 
dieresis u      ü        = 129      

To create these characters in virtually every WINDOWS/DOS program:

hold down the Alt key as type of shift key, and while doing so enter the ASCII value on the numeric keypad (on the right side of the keyboard), then release the Alt key. Note: you may have to have the Num Lock key turned on for this option to work.

Program-specific solutions.

Older programs sometimes used a type of “dead key” system, allowing the user to create characters similarly to the way it was done using a typewriter, combining for example an apostrophe with a vowel.

Currently, many word processors have an Insert function listen in the task bar towards the top of the screen; one of the options is typically to insert a Character or Symbol from various groupings; this may give the user access to an amazing variety of characters, but this can be a very slow procedure to use when creating a document in a foreign language.

In some programs you can create a macro to do the job for you; for example, you might be able to declare the keystroke combination Control-A or Alt-A to be á. This involves setting some preferences or customizing options in the program used.

(In WordPerfect 8/9 for Windows, click on Tools, then Settings, then Customize to start this process; after selecting a keyboard to edit or create, use the Keystrokes tab to get the box where you insert the character to be used for any keystroke combination; Ctrl-W can be used to give you access to the multinational character set for importing characters to the text box).

Note: the Control or Ctrl key, like Alt, is used as a type of shift key. This type of set-up can make typing a foreign language much faster than many other options, but may not be transferable to other programs.

Foreign language (software-created) keyboards.

If you use Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP, you can use any one of various Spanish keyboards; they come free with Windows. To set it up, go to the Control Panel (found under the My computer icon, or Start / Settings), then click on Keyboard, then select the tab Language, then click on the box add and select the keyboard or language you want. You may install several such keyboards, and can switch back and forth between them while typing by choosing one of the options listed in the Keyboard section, for example by using the keystroke combination Left Alt+Shift. An abbreviation for the keyboard in use will appear near the time on the Windows taskbar, for example Es for Español, or En for English; you can also switch to any other selected language by clicking on that language abbreviation to open a dialog box. Once you find and remember where the various symbols are and how they're created, this system can make the process of entering a foreign language on the computer a much faster one. Some problems you may find using the foreign language keyboards: English symbols such as punctuation are often found in widely differing places, and it is difficult or impossible to find other characters on your keyboard, such as the backslash.

Another option for Windows 95/98/etc. users is to select the (English) United States International keyboard. Follow the steps outlined above for Spanish keyboards [My computer icon, or Start / Settings, then click on Keyboard, then select the tab Language, then click on the box add], but choose English; then under properties select United States International). This keyboard lets you create all the accented characters in French, German, and Spanish by first using a “dead”1 accent key ( ' [apostrophe], ", `, ^, and ~) and then a vowel or the letter c to produce a character. For example, using the apostrophe key followed by an a gives á. Use the tilde plus n to produce ñ (or the accent grave key plus a vowel to create characters like à, or the double quotes key plus a vowel for letters such as ü, or the caret plus e for ê). This works with capital letters as well. You can also use the right-side Alt key a type of shift key to create these same Spanish characters; that is, you can produce all the accented vowels and the ñ in Spanish using Alt-a, Alt-e, Alt-i, Alt-o, Alt-u, Alt-n. Some other characters possible: Alt-? = ¿; Alt-! = ¡; , Alt-[ = «; Alt-] = »; Alt-, = ç; Alt-c = ©; Alt-s = ß.2 I use this keyboard almost exclusively since I often must produce characters in French and German as well as Spanish and English. The only problems I've encountered are: parts of a few Windows programs may not accept the Alt shortcuts, and you need to remember to use a space character following a “dead” key to cancel the dead feature in certain situations such as to produce “A” rather than Ä”.1

    1 If you want to use one of the “dead” keys for the character indicated on the keycap, hit that key and then go ahead and either type the next character —if it's not a vowel or c— or else hit the space bar; the character indicated on the keycap will appear and a space will not be inserted into the text.]

    2 Do not use the shift key when using Alt.

Even though you may get the desired foreign language character on the screen, occasionally you may have problems printing it in your document; fortunately modern ink-jet and laser printers are now generally excellent at producing West-European language characters.

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